By Josh Brown
TROY — A Butler runner thrown out at home plate to end the first inning. An inning-ending 1-2-3 double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam and stay alive in extras. And a host of pickoffs, caught-stealings and double plays to erase other Aviator baserunners throughout the game.
After all the defensive plays the Troy baseball team made to stay in the game, one error in particular cost the Trojans.
With Troy clinging to a two-run lead from the first inning on, Butler was able to tie the score in the fifth inning on an error and eventually force extra innings. And though the Trojans made enough defensive plays to keep the score tied through eight innings, the Aviators finally broke the door open with a seven-run ninth inning to escape Market Street Field with a 9-2 victory Monday in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play.
“We made the most out of some tough situations for about eight innings,” Troy coach Ty Welker said. “But you can only fight it off so long before the dam’s going to bust … and it did. I wish we could’ve capitalized on some things, found another run or made another out, something like that.
“The boys played hard enough to win it through seven and just couldn’t find a way to get another run across. And (Hayden) Kotwica surely pitched well enough to win it.”
The loss snapped Troy’s five-game winning streak, dropping the Trojans to 7-8 and 5-3 in the GWOC American North. And though the Trojans remained competitive against the division leader in Butler (14-1, 7-0 GWOC American North), it was little consolation for them.
“We don’t like moral victories,” Welker said. “We don’t work hard to lose in nine innings to a team like that. When we’re in position to come out on top in the game, we’re not happy with the loss.
“Yes, we competed. If you saw games earlier this year against some teams, we didn’t compete. But we made defensive plays, Kotwica battled on the mound and we had a much better approach at the plate for about eight innings, but unfortunately we rolled the dice one too many times, and it didn’t come out.”
Butler threatened in the top of the first with two outs. Tyler Burley singled and Matt Grossman hit a single to left-center that Troy center fielder Tyler Brandenburg had trouble fielding. Burley broke for the plate, but Brandenburg fired to shortstop Brandon Emery, who threw to catcher Keiran Williams to record the final out of the inning at the plate.
The Trojans kept riding that momentum in the bottom of the inning. Kotwica doubled to lead off, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Jake Daniel drove an RBI double off the fence in right. Williams followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0 and was eventually stranded on third base, but Troy still enjoyed a two-run lead after one.
The Aviators had baserunners in every inning and kept the pressure on most of the game, but Troy starter Kotwica and his defense kept finding ways to get out of trouble. In the second, back-to-back strikeouts left a runner stranded on third. In the third, Butler couldn’t do anything with a two-out hit, and in the fourth a leadoff double by Grossman led to nothing after he was erased by a pickoff throw from Williams.
Troy couldn’t keep it up forever, though.
A one-out single by Jack Mitchell and a wild pitch set up an RBI single by Damon Dues, but a called third strike served up by Kotwica put Troy on the verge of getting out of the inning with the lead intact. An error on a grounder that could have been the last out of the inning allowed the tying run to score, though, making it 2-2 in the middle of the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Trojans couldn’t put anything together offensively against Butler’s Braeden Norman. Chaz Copas was 2 for 3 and Jacob Adams 2 for 4, the only Troy players with multiple hits as Butler outhit the Trojans 19-8 in the game, with Norman striking out six and walking none. After the first inning, Troy only got four baserunners to second or third base in the rest of the game.
“We were facing one of the better pitchers in the area, but our approach was much better than when we faced him last year and had no approach at the plate and didn’t swing and looked at too any third strikes,” Welker said. “We only looked at strike three once tonight, and we battled at the plate. Our approach is 100 times better than it was earlier this year and surely better than against him last year.”
Butler threatened in the sixth, but Troy made two big plays to get out of it unscathed. Joe Jackson led off with a single, but Williams immediately threw him out trying to steal. Back-to-back singles followed, though, and a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with two outs and Dues at the plate. Troy intentionally walked him, though, and Kotwica recorded his sixth and final strikeout of the game to end the inning, though.
And in the seventh, Burley led off with a single but was doubled off first on a line drive to Matt Bigley at third, and the game went into extra innings tied 2-2.
Bigley came on in relief of Kotwica in the top of the eighth, and Butler had two runners on and one out with Dues up — and the Trojans walked him intentionally again. The move paid, off, as the next batter hit a grounder back to Bigley on the mound who started a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning. Norman sat down the Trojans in order, though, and the game went on to the ninth.
Where everything went wrong for Troy.
Grossman hit an RBI double that cashed in a leadoff walk and immediately gave Butler the advantage — but the Aviators were far from done. Jackson hit an RBI sac fly, Mitchell later hit a two-run single, another run scored on a dropped fly ball, Dolen Fults hit an RBI groundout and Burley hit an RBI single. Six hits, a walk and two errors later, Butler held an insurmountable 9-2 lead.
Troy continued fighting, as Adams and Cole Brogan hit two-out singles in the bottom of the inning. But Norman induced a groundout to second to put away the game.
Now the Trojans will have to make sure that ninth inning doesn’t bleed over into Tuesday’s game — Troy finishes the series against Butler at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Wright State University.
“The only thing I worry about is does it give them a boost for tomorrow,” Welker said. “We kind of held them in check, and they were a little surprised by that. I think they were anticipating coming in and rolling a little bit, and we played a nice game. But again, we don’t like moral victories.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.